SIRTE, Libya (AFP) – Arab leaders on Sunday ruled out renewed Middle East peace talks unless Israel halts all settlement building and urged US President Barack Obama to keep up his opposition.
At the end of a two-day summit in Libya, they called for Obama to remain loyal to his “initial and key position” to work to halt Jewish settlement on Palestinian land that posed a “dangerous obstacle” to peace.
The summit was dominated by Israel’s decision this month to build 1,600 settler homes in mainly Arab east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.
US efforts to broker indirect “proximity” talks between Israel and the Palestinians were stymied by the move, which came just days after the Arabs had agreed to give negotiations another chance.
Arab leaders also agreed on “a plan of action that includes political and legal measures to confront Israel’s attempts to Judaise Jerusalem,” and pledged to raise 500 million dollars in aid to bolster the Palestinian presence there.
“The resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations demands that Israel implements its legal commitments by stopping all settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem,” the final resolution read.
The statement insisted “on the need to have a timeframe for these negotiations and that they resume from where they left off and on the basis of what has been agreed upon in the peace process.”
The Islamist movement Hamas criticised the summit for failing to go far enough in response to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which the Palestinian group rules.
“The positions taken by the Arab summit were not at the level demanded and did not match the aspirations of the Palestinian people to lift the siege, end their suffering and protect their holy sites,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP.
“Waiting to test the intentions of the occupation is a waste of time… The summit should have used every means of Arab pressure to isolate the Zionist occupation.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed no let-up in plans to build new settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem, on Sunday blamed the Palestinians for blocking peace talks, suspended since December 2008.
“We continue to see that the Palestinians are hardening their positions. They do not show any sign of moderation,” said Netanyahu.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas already on Saturday ruled out new talks with the Jewish state until it halts settlements, despite agreeing earlier this month to US calls to enter into indirect negotiations with Israel.
“We cannot resume indirect negotiations as long as Israel maintains its settlement policy and the status quo,” the Fatah leader told the summit.
Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who said ahead of the summit that talks with Israel had become “pointless,” urged Arab leaders to mull their options in case of a total collapse of the peace process.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon, in an address to the summit’s opening day, sought Arab support for US-brokered indirect talks while stressing Jerusalem must emerge as the “capital of two states.”
The international community has never recognised Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war, when it captured the West Bank, and considers all settlements illegal.
The leaders also decided to meet again before the end of October at an “extraordinary summit” to discuss a proposal to reform and transform the Arab League into an “Arab Union” and another to set up an “Arab Neighbourhood Zone” open to non-Arab powerbrokers such as Turkey and Iran.
“We invite Turkey to join us but we will hold discussions with Iran before inviting it,” Mussa said on Sunday, citing some “points of difference” with the Islamic republic.
The Arab leaders also welcomed the results of Iraq’s March 7 general election, and called for the rapid formation of a new government, saying “Iraqi national interest should be above everything else.”
Iraq is due to host the 2011 Arab summit.
Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who hosted his first ever summit in his coastal hometown of Sirte, was true to his reputation of unpredictibility by failing to keep with custom and deliver a closing speech at the end of the summit.